MEPs warn of ‘grave concerns’ over post-Brexit citizens’ rights

The European Parliament is stepping up warnings over citizens’ rights after Brexit, expressing fears in particular that safeguards for EU nationals living in the UK are being jeopardised by Boris Johnson’s government.

A draft resolution to be debated by MEPs in Strasbourg stresses that their approval for the divorce deal will depend on assurances given, especially over the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme.

Under this scheme, Europeans will have to register in order to continue living in the country. It calls for provisions in the withdrawal agreement to be fully implemented.

The motion expresses “grave concern” over the fate of EU citizens who fail to meet the registration deadline on 30 June 2021. Last year UK Home Office minister Brandon Lewis suggested that people who had not applied to formalise their status by that date could “theoretically” be deported.

It also accuses the British government of failing to protect EU nationals against potential future discrimination by employers or landlords, and says inadequate registration infrastructure could leave people exposed.

Concerns are repeated over the UK’s plans for an independent authority which under the withdrawal deal is meant to monitor arrangements. The resolution calls on the UK to ensure it is “genuinely independent”. The British government has been accused of watering down the body’s powers in the Brexit bill going through the UK parliament.

The motion also calls on EU countries to provide “legal certainty” for Britons living on the continent, and urges that future free movement and voting rights be guaranteed. It notes that many UK nationals resident in EU nations are opposed to losing rights they currently enjoy.

The warnings echo recent comments by senior EU leaders over citizens’ rights. Last week European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reminded both the UK and the EU of their obligations under the divorce deal.

Media reports in December said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had written to the UK Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay expressing concern over the fate of Europeans who failed to apply for residency, and over the monitoring body.

The campaigning body for citizens’ rights, the3million group, has accused the British government and Boris Johnson of reneging on previous pledges that EU nationals living in the UK would “automatically” be given the right to stay.

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the EU and the UK and agreed by European national leaders needs to be ratified by the European and British parliaments before the January 31 deadline.

The huge Conservative majority following the UK’s December general election has removed any uncertainty in the House of Commons. However, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt warned in the aftermath that people were wrong to presume it would “give automatically its consent” to the withdrawal deal, and that “remaining problems” with citizens’ rights first had to be solved.

Despite MEPs’ concerns, many will be aware that unless the deal is ratified, the default legal outcome would be a no-deal Brexit with citizens’ rights stripped away altogether.

The debate by MEPs on Tuesday is due to be followed by a vote on Wednesday.

The European Parliament’s plenary session is the last that will be attended by British MEPs, who will give up their seats under Brexit, before the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the month.

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